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Board addresses information needs of potential living donors

St. Louis -- The OPTN/UNOS Board of Directors, at its meeting June 23-24, adopted a series of resolutions to support the decision-making process of living organ donors. These resolutions were developed as part of the OPTN's evolving responsibility to oversee the practice of live organ transplantation in the United States.

"About two out of every five kidney transplants come from live donors," said OPTN/UNOS President Robert Metzger, M.D. "Most living donors have an existing relationship to their recipient. However, a small but increasing number of people are coming forward to donate to someone they did not know previously."

"We want to make sure that the potential living donor knows what is involved, what the medical risks are, and what options he or she has. We also need to maintain public trust in the national transplant system and to ensure that candidates are considered equitably. Ultimately it's up to the individual transplant center to ensure that the donor is medically suitable, understands what's involved and has a proper motivation to donate."

The Board issued a number of recommendations, including the following:

  • The OPTN and UNOS will provide comprehensive resource information to support prospective live donors, including medical criteria for who can donate and individual transplant institutions' protocols for live unrelated donation. The OPTN will not participate in efforts to solicit living donors for specific transplant candidates.
  • The OPTN will develop a nationwide mechanism to allocate organs from live non-directed donors (those who wish to be a living donor without naming a specific recipient).
  • The OPTN encourages transplant institutions to inform prospective live donors about the principles of the organ allocation system.

The actions were recommended by an ad hoc OPTN/UNOS committee that had considered feedback from the general public and transplant-related individuals and organizations, as well as the views of other OPTN/UNOS committees. Many noted the need for thorough information to enable potential live donors to make well-informed decisions. They also believed the OPTN should determine a consistent approach for matching non-directed donors (various centers and organ procurement organizations maintain individual protocols for handling such donors). However, many did not believe the OPTN should be involved in matching specific candidates with living donors or in directly recruiting potential live donors.

The OPTN/UNOS will continue to study issues relating to living donation and donor solicitation. "This is a complex and evolving issue," noted Dr. Metzger. "We want to do all we can to meet the needs of transplant candidates through living and deceased donation. But with live donation, we also want to ensure that the potential donor has valid, complete information and is not exploited in the process."

The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) is operated under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Division of Transplantation by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The OPTN brings together medical professionals, transplant recipients and donor families to develop organ transplantation policy.